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Ashoka University forced Verniers out, kept scientific board in the dark: TCPD members say in open letter

Ashoka University forced Verniers out, kept scientific board in the dark: TCPD members say in open letter

New Delhi, Sep 14 (SocialNews.XYZ) The members of the scientific board of Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) have alleged that Ashoka University forced psephologist and professor Gilles Verniers out, and that the university did not inform the scientific board about the decisions that affect not only the leadership of TCPD, but also its future as an institution.

In an open letter, the members of TCPD's scientific board, which was formed by Verniers and includes academics Christophe Jaffrelot, Francesca Jensenius, Milan Vaishnav, Mukulika Banerjee, Susan Ostermann and Tariq Thachil, besides former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, said that the empirical study of democracy and elections requires evidence.


"For years, research on Indian elections and democracy was limited by the absence of publicly available data. Scholars had to wait for months after an election to access Election Commission of India's (ECI) statistical reports, which came in all sorts of formats, none of them readily usable.

"The Trivedi Centre for Political Data at Ashoka University changed this situation by providing quality open-access data in real time and by conducting cutting-edge analysis of India's elections," the letter said.

"The TCPD's vibrant and important agenda, under the leadership of founding-director professor Gilles Verniers, is what attracted each of us to serve on its scientific board, and contribute to its intellectual mission.

"We now write to state our regret that the Centre's founder and director was forced to leave, and that the university did not inform the Centre's scientific board about decisions that affect not only its leadership, but also its future as an institution," it said.

The letter said that TCPD was initially built around the research of Verniers, who analysed the electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh and expanded his work to all states and national elections and while teaching at the Young India Fellowship in 2014, assembled a data unit with the help of Young India Fellows and in collaboration with colleagues outside the university.

It said that he collaborated with Francesca Jensenius, who had assembled the first version of the dataset on India’s national and state elections, which became the foundation for the development of the 'Lok Dhaba' database.

"In its seven years of operation, scholars at TCPD have produced 16 groundbreaking datasets, led 20 research projects, organised 80 research seminars, published 20 research papers and book chapters, and organised two major conferences on computational social sciences.

"The team has also published more than 300 analytical articles in the Indian press and built high-quality academic partnerships. In 2017, it was awarded the label of ‘International Research Partner’ by the Centre for National Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, in association with CERI-SciencesPo," the open letter said.

The letter added that currently, data made public through the TCPD website is a primary source for nearly all scholarship and commentary on Indian politics. The data is frequently used by scholars and journalists and have a substantial impact on the research and coverage of Indian elections.

These data have also found their way into other major public data repositories, including the CLEA dataset at the University of Michigan and the SHRUG database of the Development Data Lab, to name a few, it said.

The TCPD also built partnerships with scholars and institutions from across the world.

"Last year, it hosted two Fulbright scholars. It is no exaggeration to say that the centre has had, in its short existence, a transformative impact on the field of Indian electoral politics. Given this track record of excellence, we were surprised and disappointed that we, as the scientific board, were not consulted before substantial changes were made governing how the centre is run and situated within its home institution, in breach of academic norms.

"Under such circumstances, we, signatories of this letter, are dissolving TCPD’s scientific board. We commit to supporting Verniers’ and his partners’ efforts to maintain the future and the integrity of the data and of the work associated with it," it said.

Earlier, the university based in Sonepat said in a statement, "Ashoka University announced the creation of a Centre for Data Sciences and Analytics (CDSA) in June 2023. The CDSA aims to become the leading academic Centre in its domain in India, offering world-class and first-of-its-kind research, training, teaching and capacity building in data science. It also aims to provide a repository of open access public data across interdisciplinary fields.

"It is proposed that some of the centres and offices at Ashoka University be integrated with the new centre in an effort to enhance its data-driven capabilities and fostering a readily accessible collection of data sets. The Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) is among them, and TCPD’s proposed integration with the new centre has been communicated to the TCPD scientific board recently."

On Veriner's exit, it said, "Verniers’ departure from Ashoka University is due to him not clearing the university’s stringent tenure process, which in his case happened almost an year ago. Faculty who do not qualify for tenure exit the university within three semesters.

"Verniers has not been teaching at Ashoka for the last one year, and has now chosen to leave the university. The university appreciates Prof Verniers's many contributions as a teacher and towards building a strong reference source of political data for researchers and students."

Source: IANS

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Ashoka University forced Verniers out, kept scientific board in the dark: TCPD members say in open letter

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